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Nike Air Max 1: The history of an all-time sneaker classic from the GOAT

Ahead of this year’s Air Max Day, longtime sneakerhead Andy Silva breaks down the story of the first pair of kicks to feature visible Air.

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This week we celebrate Air Max Day (March 26), a day that since 2014 has been designed to give some love to the long-running Air Max series that, along with the Air Jordan line, helped revolutionize the sneaker game and make Nike the company we know it as today. Nike themselves produced a mini-documentary in 2020 to celebrate the line:

We’re also marking the 35th anniversary of the shoe that started it all for the Air Max line - the Air Max 1. The Air Max 1 is a shoe that brought the world visible Air for the first time, begging the question: Is seeing really believing?

The history of this iconic silhouette begins with a trip to Paris for GOAT of sneaker design, Tinker Hatfield.

Quick tangent: It’s wild that one man has designed so many of the iconic sneakers we all still thirst after today and pay big bucks for on the sneaker aftermarket. Hatfield is responsible for:

  • Air Jordan 3-15 (aside from the Air Jordan 15, most of the iconic J’s that are still getting re-released going on 30 years later, with the notable exception of the Air Jordan 1)
  • Air Max 1
  • Air Max 90
  • Nike Huarache (a very underrated sneaker that is supremely comfortable, don’t sleep on it)
  • Air Trainer
  • Air Tech Challenge II
  • Nike Air Mag (yes, the self-lacing sneakers from “Back to the Future II”!)

Hatfield is so famous he has his own Netflix documentary. But I digress.

Nike is celebrating Air Max Day this year with a trio of region-exclusive Air Max 1 releases. Here in North America, we had the opportunity to purchase the Air Max 1 “Blueprint” at 10 a.m. on March 26 for a retail price of $160. If like me you took an L on the Nike SNKRS app, they are available on sites like StockX and GOAT ... if you’re willing to pay up.

Concepts also released their third recent collab on the Air Max 1, dubbed the “Far Out,” on Air Max Day exclusively at Concepts retail locations and online for a retail price of $170. The collab sold out quickly, but fear not, as it is also available (for a price) on the secondary market from StockX and GOAT.

Nike also announced in an episode of SNKRS Live on the SNKRS app on Friday that the “Big Bubble” Air Max 1, inspired by a prototype from 1986, will be releasing in 2023.

As far as inspiration for the Air Max 1 goes, Hatfield was in Paris and visited the famous Centre Pompidou in Paris. The building is famed for its “inside out” design and inspiration struck Hatfield to show people the Nike Air technology that the company had been utilizing since the 1970s beginning with the Air Tailwind. It had the dual benefit of allowing for a larger Air bag than had been previously possible thanks to the ability for it to expand outward upon heel strike.

Seems like a slam dunk idea right? Believe it or not, no!

Apparently, some of Nike’s old guard were concerned that making the Air bubble visible would lead some consumers to fear that the bubble could burst and subsequently hurt sales. There were even some within the company who wanted to fire Hatfield for the concept, which would have deprived us of all the designs listed above. Thankfully for us, Nike and sneaker history, another designer Peter Moore - the man behind the iconic Air Jordan 1 - reportedly helped protect Hatfield and fellow designer and future Nike CEO Mark Parker, who joined Hatfield on the project.

That would not be the end of the controversy, however. The shoe would be released on March 26, 1987, and it was a hit. It was a hit thanks in part to a commercial from the famed Wieden+Kennedy ad agency featuring Nike’s roster of athletes with The Beatles’ “Revolution” playing underneath. Of course, Apple Records was less thrilled with the ad, claiming they had not granted permission for use of the song and sued Nike. The case was settled out of court but did eventually open the door to commercials featuring famous music, yet another bit of history for this Nike icon.

The Air Max 1 has gone on to sell thousands of pairs of sneakers over the past 35 years and spawned the successful Air Max line, including such icons as the Air Max 90, Air Max 95 and Air Max 97. It also has been featured in pop culture, appearing on the feet of Peter Parker himself in 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Perhaps most notably, in recent years the shoe has become a popular choice for collaborations. In the modern sneaker game, collaborations are the key to having a hot sneaker and the Air Max 1 has had no shortage of hot collaborations. From Atmos to Parra to Patta to Concepts, this shoe remains relevant to a new generation of consumers. The shoe was even scheduled to have a collab drop with the hottest name in the game, Travis Scott. However, that release was delayed and has not been rescheduled after the tragedy at Astroworld in November 2021.

I’ll leave you with this amazing 3D billboard Nike has unveiled in Japan to celebrate Air Max Day.

If you have questions or just want to talk sneakers, hit on me up on Twitter — my username is @a_silva32. Good luck if you’re going after the latest iteration of this historic model on Air Max Day!